Thursday, March 4, 2010

Exactly Like Me

Ophélia, age 11.

(I wrote this several years ago and haven't done anything with it. The story is true and the lesson I learned is one I'm still working on everyday.)

"Get that thing away from me!" I shrieked. My then 8 year old Ophélia giggled and backed up a bit.

“Isn’t he cool?” She asked with an awe-struck grin on her face.

“If you say so.” I said, barely hiding my disgust, not wanting to send her the wrong message. Oh the irony.

“Look at its beautiful thorax mommy!” Her enthusiasm was almost contagious, but only almost.

I dutifully examined the dragonfly she was holding admitting that the colors on its thorax were quite beautiful and the translucent wings stunning, if you like that sort of thing. Less than enthralled personally I forced myself to connect with my daughter by actively engaging with her object of interest. Gross though it may be. I couldn’t help but be surprised that she even knew the terminology, I only remember the terms from her many explanations and sharing passages from her books. Though as a family we strive to live gently and without violence in peace with nature, this whole fascination was completely beyond me.

There was a time when I dreamed about my little girl growing up and wanting to be just like me. I thought there could be no greater compliment than to have a child that thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I dreamed of this utopia for my daughter and I where we agreed on everything and saw eye to eye on each and every topic. Having a daughter would be so wonderful, she would be just like me! Secretly I worried that she wouldn't want to be anything like me and I wouldn’t know how to relate to this child of mine.

I hate bugs. For as long as I can remember I have loathed any kind of creature that could fall into the category of “bug.” Insect, arachnid, crustacean (though admittedly, I wasn’t opposed to eating some of those), worm, and others were all on my “EWWWW, gross!” list. Snakes weren’t too bad and I could tolerate lizards too as long as they weren’t touching me but if a flying creature that lacked feathers came near me, screaming would soon commence. I don’t really even like butterflies.

It wasn’t for lack of exposure as a child, I grew up in Florida after all. There are creepy crawly creatures there of impressive proportions and I encountered them quite often. The tropical climate of central Florida was a haven for beasties that wouldn’t survive in colder settings, many of them made their home around my home if not in it. My mother wasn’t a fan of these things either, working diligently to rid her lovely home of them and as far as I can remember my brother and sister didn’t exactly cheer the varmints on. However, nobody harbored the deep-seeded fear of bugs as much as I did. Perhaps it was this fact and it’s exploitation that perpetuated this fear into my adult life. My father didn’t seem to mind the presence of most bugs but he dutifully fulfilled his squashing, bug-riding duties when called upon by my mother. If I called him though he seemed to take a momentary delight in my frozen terror of whatever critter had crossed my path. My childhood is filled with memories of terror stricken bug encounters. One such memory happened on a rare evening of pleasant weather when my family was outside to enjoy a meal on our back porch. Apparently my family had learned my bug cries by this point as my shrieking reaction to spotting a large palmetto bug (AKA: American cockroach) on the wall was greeted with an exasperated “now what?” attitude. My mother came to soothe me, calling my dad over and I backed as far away from the wall as I could to watch the destruction of this intruder by my capable father. With one slight flick of my father’s wrist the details of the evening right down to the clothes I was wearing were forever embossed on my mind. Reaching to remove the bug that was a fairly safe distance from me my father casually rocketed the offender off the wall and right onto the chest of my royal blue velour sweatshirt. To this day there are no words for the fear that gripped me. The thing had seemed huge on the wall but now, looking down eye to eye with it I realized that it was in fact enormous. I screamed. It tried to fly away but to my further horror the prickly and sticky hairs on its legs that allowed it to crawl on the wall and ceiling caused it to be stuck in the velour. Antennae twitching, wings beating, the hideous thing began to move, towards my face. Yes, I was going to die. Though it seemed I jumped up and down in hysterics for an eternity in my 10-year-old mind, it couldn’t have been but a few seconds before my mother’s yells squelched my father’s laughter and I felt his large hand grab my shoulder and he plucked the roach off my chest. Nine years later I moved to Chicago where I heard bugs were of a more reasonable size and considered it a safe environment to begin a family.

I could be wrong, but perhaps memories like this one and others are at the root of my deep and abiding fear of bugs. I was never attracted to men that thought bugs and such were “cool” and I married a man that holds a strong dislike for bugs though he is capable of eliminating them so I wouldn’t have to if we encountered any in our life together. After our daughter began to walk my husband and I decided we would attempt to protect our daughter from our irrational fear of the creepy-crawlies and actually encouraged her interest in them. This wasn’t easy but we were certain that it must be healthier. Years later I question that decision.

The truth is, my daughter loves bugs. Living in Houston now, she has an endless supply of research opportunities within our own backyard and sometimes, even inside. A budding entomologist, her room is decorated with bugs: model ones she made, decorations from a bug themed party (where the party goers made bug boxes and took home live crickets), habitats for the critters, books, specimens and her drawings. One Halloween she dressed-up as an Entomologist and convinced her sisters to costume themselves as bugs. For birthdays and Christmas she asks for more bug paraphernalia without fail including live specimens to raise. She has raised and cared for worms, caterpillars, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, rolly-pollies, grasshoppers, praying mantids, ants and there would have been more if I had let her. As I write this there is a family of Walking Sticks crawling around a habitat in her room. I can’t understand how she is even able to sleep with the things in there but she is quite happy with her arrangement. I no longer hide my distaste for such critters and she handles it well. We are two different people after all and this fact doesn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. She catches tadpoles and baby frogs, names the earthworms in our garden and compost pile, picks up the grubs or other yuckies for me when we are gardening, and rescues insects and spiders from certain doom if found inside. Because of her fascination with insects we have all had to become educated as to the possible dangerous ones to be sure she doesn’t handle those but I have no doubt that she will one day be begging me for a big hairy spider (not an insect, I know) to live in her room. I’m just grateful we’re not at that point yet.

This isn’t the only area where my daughter and I show our individuality but it is perhaps the most pronounced at the moment. Our preference in style of dress is distinct already, her culinary tastes reflect not only her age but also her separateness, and her athletic prowess comes from someone other than myself. We share enjoyment of several areas as well, reading, music, and growing things but there is no doubt that she is her own person. I hate bugs, she loves them. When she was tiny I imagined all the things I would teach her and the ways we would grow to spend time enjoying the same things and there are many ways that we do. I never imagined her tiny fingers being the ones to rescue me from a stare down with a bug that I was terrified of yet this is exactly what has happened. She laughs at my squeaks and yells about the bugs in our lives and I promise to hug her after saving me as long as she washed her hands first. At first I was disappointed that there were interests we didn’t really share and I was confused by her attention to subjects I couldn’t stand. In time however, I have learned to appreciate her diversity and invest myself in learning more about what piqued her curiosity. This mysterious child bears my resemblance and is involved in a host of subjects I find intriguing but at the same time she has established herself as a unique individual developing and refining her own personhood. When it comes to bugs, she has left me far behind and I couldn’t be more proud.

The poor dragonfly she showed me that day didn’t have long to live due to its severe injury but I encouraged her from a distance in her care for the creature. I admired the iridescent blues and greens on its back and examined its compound eyes through her magnifying glass. After it died, though I didn’t touch it, I helped her display her new specimen in her collection, he really is the perfect addition. Weeks later I’ve helped her care for the Walking Sticks and hugged her today when she discovered one of them dead. I don’t know what will be living in her room next but as long as it’s not poisonous or dangerous in any other way I will support her, though I may not go in there for a while. We may not see eye to eye on the bug thing but I’m grateful that she’s not exactly like me after all.

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